Today the Eastlit editorial May 2014 is by Xenia Taiga.
To Suffer is to be in Want
At the market there is a lady selling a dog. The dog lies at her feet. The dog is dead. The lady sits on a small stool behind the line of bikers that wait for the buses to stop. The bikers will rev up their engines and press their horns till the bus leaves and the passengers have emptied the street.
Two seasons before I’ve seen this lady twice. It’s the same lady. The first time I saw her, only the hind quarters were left. I didn’t know what I was seeing. At first I thought it was a cat, a large cat. The flesh was white. It was scraped clean of fur. It had a long skinny tail that curved out and at the end of the two legs were soft padded paws. The privates were already gutted out.
I was walking with a Chinese friend. I nudged her. “Hey, what’s that?” I asked. She glanced, shuddered and then turned her face straight ahead. “What is that? A cat? Is it a cat?” She refused to answer my questions. She acted like I was not speaking. She acted like I almost didn’t exist. She acted like I imagined the whole scenario. I nudged her again and then finally when the lady and the slaughtered displayed dog were out of eyeshot I stopped talking. We walked ahead in silence.
Writing tip: “Never play it safe. Writing is about taking risks. Writing is about digging deep and uncovering the raw, sometimes painful pieces.”
Since that occasion I always locked my head straight ahead not looking to the left or right until I passed that street. I was like a horse with blinders on. I was a good horse. And then summer came and the lady was gone. She returned again for the next winter. By that time I was not a good horse and looked to the right and saw with horror the same lady sitting on her small stool. Beyond the waiting bikers she was barely visible, but what was visible was the sight of the animal. It was not a cat. It was a dog.
Writing tip: “When one takes risks in writing, the words on the page are alive and full of truth.”
I stared at that lady. Hatred ran through my veins. The dog’s head was separated from the body. Again the privates were eliminated.
Writing tip: “Ask yourself: Where? What? How? Who? and Why? These questions can help you to delve into the deeper meaning of your story.”
The last time I looked there was another dog at her feet. The dog’s neck had two deep gashes. The front legs were pulled up, frozen stiff, like a prancing horse on a Merry-Go-Round. The dog’s head was slightly twisted, its mouth gaped open and the eyes half closed as if in sleep. The main body was sawed in half; the privates gone again.
Questions were raised: Where is she getting the dogs? Are they cooped up like chickens or pigs or cows in a small compartments being bred until slaughter time? Did she pull the dog off the street like rumors I’ve heard? Did she herself kill the dog? How did she kill the dog?
In Guatemala I took a weekend trip with some friends to the countryside and stayed at their friend’s house. They split the chores between us (we were a large group) and decided I was in charge of making dinner, or rather that I was in the group which would make dinner that night. The group said they would be making chicken. I said, “Great. Let me go up to the store and buy the chicken.”
“No,” they said. “We already got a chicken.” And they showed me a live chicken. It was a beautiful chicken; flapping and clucking away. “No, you don’t need to do that,” I told them. “I got the money. I’ll just go ahead and buy one of those chickens. The ones in the freezer.” The frozen kind that had no head or feet or tiny black eyes or neck. Just flesh. White flesh ready to be thawed, cooked and eaten.
They laughed. One of the friends’ sons was twelve years old and he took great delight in my horror. I went off to another part of the house to keep myself busy. It was later decided I would help in making the corn tortillas. The son called me. I turned in time to see the boy and two other ladies pulling the flapping chicken taut and the knife cutting into its neck, the blood dripping to the grass.
I didn’t eat the chicken. I ate the corn tortillas which were horrible. I and another girl had no experience in making corn tortillas. I was a foreigner. What was her excuse? Her mother made tortillas not her. The tortillas fell apart at our touch. The middle was wet and mushy. The chicken on the other hand smelled delicious. My stomach growled. I went to bed hungry.
Writing Tip: “Write what you know.”
I’m a hypocrite. I eat pork. I eat chicken. I eat beef. I eat fish. What is the difference between a dog and a chicken? The difference is my wenhua, my culture. I grew up with Lassie. They did not grow up with Lassie.
Lassie. A dog. A man’s best friend. A friend to go jogging with, to play Frisbee with, to cuddle with, to lick your face even though you tell the dog “bad dog bad dog” but end up laughing anyway.
I grew up with the Far Side Cartoons. They didn’t. And out of the 365 days Far Side Cartoon Calendar my family chose the Lassie cartoon as one of the best. My mom ripped it out and posted it on the fridge.
The cartoon has four sections. The first one has a boy drowning. He tells Lassie to go get help. The next two drawings show Lassie jumping over obstacles and running large distances to get the boy some help. The last picture Lassie is looking at you and she’s asking: Who’s Lassie? We thought it was genius. We could relate because growing up we had our share of troubles and hearts broken by our lovable stupid pets.
I had an Australian Shepherd dog once. She had one blue eye and one brown eye. Her white nose was freckled with black spots. I begged to keep her. My father had doubts. Another dog? Do we really need another dog? My father’s friend said that Australian shepherds are the best dogs in the world, very loyal.
I loved that dog. She took a mean Frisbee. Her body would twist beautifully in the air, snapping that Frisbee in her mouth. I wanted to name her Princess Leia. My parents did not think that was a good idea. I named her Joy.
Joy was not a faithful dog. She ran off as soon as the gate was opened. I and my brother were constantly running after her. Once when a tornado hit our town, we took a ride around to survey the damage. My dad was driving his favorite green Chevrolet truck. I and my brother were in the back with our two dogs. We came to a dip in the road that was overflowing with water. My dad carefully guided the truck through the water till we reached the other side of the road. Joy got wild. She jumped out and leaped into the waters, disappearing underneath the gurgling brown waters. My brother yelled stop and then he too jumped into the waters. I was the next one to go in.
Joy was the first one to get out. When I finally was able to push through the strong waters tumbling and pounding at my head, I saw my dad yank the dog out of the water onto the bank. My brother was the next one helped out of the swollen river. I managed to swim over holding onto some debris and weeds till my father helped me. We were wet and shivering. My dog already shaken dry was now happily pouncing through some weeds, sniffing wildly and wagging her tail.
My father said we all were stupid. First the dog and then his two children went jumping into a raging river. We had a severe lecture about never ever doing that again. We defended ourselves saying that the dog went into the river and he defended himself saying that it was the dog who was the first one to get out. “I would’ve had two dead children,” he grumbled. “And all because of a stupid dog!”
Joy later died chasing after a cattle truck. The cattle truck ran over her. I saw it happened. The cattle truck driver kept driving.
Yes, she was a stupid dog, but I still loved that dog.
Writing tip: “In writing strive for the meaning of the story. Ask yourself is it really necessary to write this story? Why is it necessary?”
I write this piece as a plane goes missing. Twelve countries are in the process of helping to recover the 239 people that went missing. The plane en route from Malaysia to Beijing was hijacked. I write this as Russia is determined to enter Crimea. Nuclear weapons are being dusted off. I write this and think what does one dog matter? What does one dead dog matter?
It matters to me.
I want to write about happy things. I wish there were more happy things in the world that I could read about, that I could write about. I like to laugh. No, I love to laugh. I would give up writing to have a world like that and if this was a creative non-fiction piece I would head out down the streets to the local market, pass the whistling bikers to the lady selling the dead dog. I would kneel before that lady and take that beheaded dog into my lap, look into his glassy eyes and sing to make it all better.